Tag Archives: Donald Trump

The “Best People”

Remember when Trump promised an administration populated by the “best people”?

I thought I’d devote a post to former Secretary of Labor Acosta before his particular scandal is eclipsed by others–most recently, Trump’s effort to appoint a nutcase supporter with absolutely no credentials to the Intelligence post being vacated by Dan Coats.

Gail Collins, as usual, summed up the Acosta situation with pith and vinegar:

On Wednesday, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta tried to hold back the outrage that’s been building since people learned that, as a federal prosecutor in South Florida, he had brokered a very lenient punishment for Jeffrey Epstein, a rich guy who liked to have sex with underage girls.

Explanation: It was a good deal. You know how this administration feels about good deals.

“The Palm Beach state attorney’s office was ready to let Epstein walk free,” Acosta said in his calm, sort of toneless voice. “Our prosecutors … presented the ultimatum.” Which was that Epstein, who had molested a parade of teenagers, some only 14, had to serve at least a little jail time. The punishment Acosta wrangled with his alleged best possible efforts involved 13 months in prison, during which Epstein was free to spend most days at his office as long as he slept overnight in the clink.

Before the uproar caused Acosta to resign, Trump (of course!) defended him–in terms that, as Collins notes, displayed his total ignorance of what it is the Department of Labor does:

Ever since the Epstein scandal arose, Trump has been defending Acosta, stressing what an “excellent” job he’s doing. After all, the president told reporters, “our economy is so good, our unemployment numbers are at record lows.” You might have thought he was under the impression the secretary of labor had something to do with boosting the economy. As opposed to things like workplace safety and collecting job statistics.

And oh, yeah, human trafficking. Very embarrassing that Acosta is one of the people who’s supposed to protect underage women from being sold as sex slaves.

Hmm. Before this week, what do you think Donald Trump thought the Department of Labor did?

My husband and I recently spent a week with a cousin who lives near Palm Beach, the nexus of this scandal. She recommended a book by James Patterson and two co-authors, written in the wake of the sweetheart deal negotiated by Acosta. (The book was written long before Epstein’s recent arrest.) I downloaded and read it, and it was eye opening–if you can be nauseated and have your eyes opened at the same time.

Titled Filthy Rich: The Billionaire’s Sex Scandal–The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein, the book offered a view into a lifestyle enjoyed not just by Epstein, but by the obscenely rich milieu in which he traveled–a lifestyle incomprehensible to most Americans. Patterson is known for his fiction, but this book was solid reporting, with sources clearly identified.

Leaving aside the predatory sex (and the inevitable curiosity about which of Epstein’s “pals” participated, or at least were aware of his proclivities), what the book most vividly described is the gigantic gap between the criminal justice system encountered by the rich and that system as applied to the rest of us. The local police detectives who did their jobs and documented Epstein’s abuse–and the incredible extent of that abuse–were no match for Epstein’s high-powered lawyer friends, including Alan Dershowitz.

Donald Trump was a member of Epstein’s milieu for a number of years. Whether or not he participated in the sex (a reasonable question given his history), he clearly and fully accepted the billionaire club’s cultural assumptions, including the belief that the rules that apply to the “little people” don’t apply to them.

One “takeaway” from the book: In Trumpworld, the “best people” are pretty despicable specimens.

 

 

REALLY Telling It Like It Is

In the wake of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, I’ve seen a number of heartfelt and pointed columns, posts and speeches. I’ve also seen responses by “the usual suspects,” insisting that the problem isn’t the obscene number and easy availability of guns–no, it’s mental health, or immigration (!), or (stupidest of all)  video games.

The “gun nuts”–a term I reserve for people who abandon any and all sanity in defense of unlimited gun ownership–have posted angry responses to Facebook messages advocating gun control measures.

My recent favorite was the idiot who claimed that guns aren’t the problem–evil people are the problem, and laws won’t stop people from being evil. I really do know better than to respond to such people, but I couldn’t help myself: I pointed out that, by his “logic,” America must have more evil people than all those countries where mass shootings don’t take place.

But in one sense, he has a point about “evil people.”

The shooting in El Paso was just the latest in a series of white nationalist terrorist attacks, encouraged by a despicable, racist President (who, among other things, has run 2,200 FB ads since last May using the word “invasion” to describe immigration). Trump’s bigotry is enabled by Republicans who are either equally racist or moral cowards unwilling to speak up.

I should note that there are exceptions. Two recent, powerful indictments of the white nationalist in the Oval Office are from two prominent conservatives who were (and perhaps still are) Republicans.

Conservative Jennifer Rubin has written that there is no excuse for supporting this President. She points to Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, his channeling of “replacement” conspiracy theories, his dehumanization of immigrants and his demonization of the media–and notes how often his words have been quoted by perpetrators of horrific racist acts.

 Michael Gerson’s column in the Washington Post is a must-read.

Gerson begins by saying he’d intended to ignore Trump’s latest outrages; he planned instead to write about “the self-destructive squabbling” of Democratic presidential candidates.

But I made the mistake of pulling James Cone’s “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” off my shelf — a book designed to shatter convenient complacency. Cone recounts the case of a white mob in Valdosta, Ga., in 1918 that lynched an innocent man named Haynes Turner. Turner’s enraged wife, Mary, promised justice for the killers. The sheriff responded by arresting her and then turning her over to the mob, which included women and children. According to one source, Mary was “stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”

God help us. It is hard to write the words. This evil — the evil of white supremacy, resulting in dehumanization, inhumanity and murder — is the worst stain, the greatest crime, of U.S. history. It is the thing that nearly broke the nation. It is the thing that proved generations of Christians to be vicious hypocrites. It is the thing that turned normal people into moral monsters, capable of burning a grieving widow to death and killing her child.

Trump supporters characterize his racist tweets and white-nationalist-encouraging rallies as “telling it like it is.” But it is Gerson who tells it like it really is.

Racism is the fire that left our country horribly disfigured. It is the beast we try to keep locked in the basement. When the president of the United States plays with that fire or takes that beast out for a walk, it is not just another political event, not just a normal day in campaign 2020. It is a cause for shame. It is the violation of martyrs’ graves. It is obscene graffiti on the Lincoln Memorial.

It is impossible for people of good will to deny the truth of his essay, or his closing words.

Trump’s continued offenses mean that a large portion of his political base is energized by racist tropes and the language of white grievance. And it means — whatever their intent — that those who play down, or excuse, or try to walk past these offenses are enablers.

Some political choices are not just stupid or crude. They represent the return of our country’s cruelest, most dangerous passion. Such racism indicts Trump. Treating racism as a typical or minor matter indicts us.

Click through and read the entire column. Then do whatever it takes to help get out the vote in 2020.

 

 

America: Pick A Torch

It’s impossible to read a newspaper without encountering a solemn “analysis” of what the Democrats absolutely must do in order to defeat Donald Trump in 2020.

Meanwhile, it becomes clearer every day that–stripped to its essence– the 2020 election will be about one overarching issue: what kind of country do we want to be?

A widely shared visual summed it up nicely with two photographs, side by side. One was a picture of Neo-Nazis with their tiki torches in Charlottesville; the second was a photo of the Statue of Liberty, focused on her torch. The caption asked “which torch will you choose?”

I rarely visit Twitter, but a friend directed me to a thread directly relevant to that question. 

The author was Tim Wise, a political consultant who was involved in two Louisiana campaigns against David Duke. Wise dismissed the handwringing, trolling and well-meaning advice being heaped on the Democrats.

If the Dems blow this election it will not be because they were “too far left on policy” or because they “weren’t left enough.” It will have little to do with policy at all. They are making a mistake caused by traditional consultant theory that does not apply here…

And by listening to influential pundits in liberal media who also don’t get the unique nature of Trumpism, relative to normal political movements & campaigns…this election is NOT going to be won by talking about all your “great plans” for health care, jobs, education, etc..

 And the reasons are several…Let me begin by saying that I have experience confronting the kind of phenomenon we see in Trumpism, and far more than most. Any of us who were involved in the fight against David Duke in LA in 90/91 know what this is and how it must be fought…

Wise then relayed his experience with campaigns against Duke. Political consultants warned against highlighting Duke’s racism; they said such a focus would play into Duke’s hands, and allow him to set the agenda.

Sound familiar?

In the Senate contest, the campaign followed mainstream advice not to “make a big deal” out of Duke’s racist appeals. To the extent they went negative, they talked about Duke paying his taxes late and avoiding service in Vietnam. They won, but very narrowly.

Wise regrets that approach because it normalized Duke. Attacking his bill paying habits or inadequate policy proposals “treated him like a normal candidate. But he was/is a NAZI…”

And none of his voters were voting 4 him bc of jobs, or tax policy or support for term limits, etc. And none were going to turn on him over late tax payments, Vietnam, etc. Indeed throwing that stuff out there & downplaying the elephant in the room (racism) seemed desperate..

It allowed people to say “well if he’s really this racist, white supremacist, why are they talking about all this other stuff?” It actually undermined our ability to paint him as the extremist he was/is. And as a result, the threat he posed was not clear enough to voters…

 And this didn’t just allow him to get votes he might not have gotten otherwise; it also depressed turnout among people who almost certainly disliked him but didn’t think he could win or would be all that big a deal if he did. In fact I recall convos with “liberals”…

Who said they weren’t going 2 vote bc after all Duke’s Dem opponent was just a shill for the oil and gas industry, and that was just as bad, blah blah fucking blah…because some lefties can’t tell the difference between corporatist assholes and actual literal Nazis…

 But we bore some responsibility for that because we got suckered into playing this conventional game and “not playing into his narrative.” Anyway, black and white liberal turnout is lower than it should have been and Duke gets 44% of vote…

In the Governor’s race we dispensed w/all that bullshit. We talked about Duke’s ongoing Nazism and the moral/practical evil of his racist appeals. We discussed how that moral evil would have real world consequences (driving tourists and business away, rightly so, from LA)..

Because it was wrong, and it was not who we wanted to be, and it was not who we were. We were better than that and needed to show the rest of the country that…

Now, did this flip any of Duke’s 1990 voters? Nah, not really. Indeed he got 65k MORE votes in the Governor’s race than the Senate race. But it was never about flipping them. We knew that would be almost impossible…

To flip Duke voters would require that they accept the fact that they had previously voted for a monster, and people are loath to do that. Our goal was not to flip them, but to DRIVE UP TURNOUT among the good folks, many of whom stayed home in 90…

And that is what happened. The concerted effort of the anti-Duke forces (not just us), challenging Duke’s “politics of prejudice,” and making the election about what kind of state we wanted to be, drove turnout through the roof…

When it was over, Duke had gotten 65k more votes than in 90, but his white share went to 55 (from 60) and overall to 39 (from 44) because the anti-Duke turnout swamped him…So what does this have to do with 2020 and Trump? Do I really need to explain it?…

First, trying to flip Trump voters is a waste of time. Any of them who regret their vote don’t need to be pandered to. They’ll do the right thing. Don’t focus on them. That said, very few will regret their vote. They cannot accept they voted for a monster or got suckered…

Duke retained 94% of the folks he got the first time out (and got new people too), as Trump likely will. So forget these people–or at least don’t wast time tailoring messages to them. And policy plans for affordable college don’t mean shit to them, nor health care…

Their support for Trump was never about policy. It was about the bigotry, the fact that he hates who they hate…

Wise is right. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, in 2020, America will choose a torch. Pray it’s the right one.

 

Can We Define “Great”?

One of the consequences of the fragmented media environment fostered by the Internet has been the development of alternate realities. Americans increasingly get our “news” from sources carefully chosen to confirm our pre-existing biases.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the divisions over Donald Trump and his slogan  “Make America Great Again.”

It’s true, as many historians have pointed out, that the people with whom this slogan resonates tend to have a somewhat selective understanding of America’s history–one that omits the nation’s frequent deviation from its cherished principles. But inaccurate/incomplete history isn’t really the problem. The problem is with their definition of “greatness,” which tends to correspond with straight white male Christian dominance.

My own bias is for the vision of American greatness described by soccer star Megan Rapinoe in a recent article in the Guardian.

The US women’s soccer co-captain Megan Rapinoe has delivered an uncompromising message to Donald Trump, amid ongoing controversy over a possible visit to the White House by the World Cup champions.

Asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper what she would like to say to the American leader, Rapinoe said: “Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me, you’re excluding people that look like me, you’re excluding people of colour, you’re excluding Americans that maybe support you.”

Rapinoe has been outspoken about LGBT rights as well as racial and gender equality. After the US won the World Cup for a record fourth time on Sunday, Rapinoe called for progress on equal pay for the male and female teams.

In a previous interview with CNN, Rapinoe had said that, should the U.S. team win, they would not go to the “fucking” White House. In the Guardian, she expressed regret for her language, but not for her sentiment.

“I would not go, and every teammate that I’ve talked to explicitly about it would not go,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone on the team has any interest in lending the platform that we’ve worked so hard to build, and the things that we fight for, and the way that we live our life … I don’t think that we want that to be co-opted or corrupted by this administration,” Rapinoe told Cooper.

She added that allowing the White House to “put us on display” didn’t “make sense for us at all”, adding: “There are so many other people that I would rather talk to and have meaningful conversations that could really affect change in Washington than going to the White House.”

The sports star added the US needed to have a “reckoning” with the implications of Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan. “You’re harking back to an era that was not great for everyone – it might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it’s not great for enough Americans in this world.”

Rapinoe’s definition of greatness–a definition with which I concur–is inclusion.

 A great society is one that values all its citizens, a society that rewards people based upon their behavior rather than their identity–a society that encourages and celebrates everyone’s participation and contribution.

Unfortunately, a  growing segment of the Internet is fostering a fear of “replacement” in insecure whites.That fear is based upon a definition of “greatness” that frantically opposes inclusion; “greatness” is a country where “people who look like me” are in control. As the linked article reports,

The far right has set off a vicious circle of disinformation by filling the information and communication gap on topics such as demographic change with emotive, speculative and hysterical content instead of facts.

The next election will be a choice between those who define American greatness as inclusion and civic equality and those who believe that “great” means an America that privileges straight white Christians.

 

 

What Does “Conservative” Mean Now?

This is a test. Who said this?

We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge; always leading the world to the next frontier. This quality is vital to our future as a nation. If we ever close the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost … And that’s why the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp to welcome them to the golden door. It is bold men and women, yearning for freedom and opportunity, who leave their homelands and come to a new country to start their lives over. They believe in the American dream. And over and over, they make it come true for themselves, for their children, and for others. They give more than they receive. They labor and succeed, and often they are entrepreneurs. But their greatest contribution is more than economic, because they understand in a special way how glorious it is to be an American. They renew our pride and gratitude in the United States of America, the greatest, freest nation in the world. The last, best hope of man on Earth.

The answer, it may surprise you to learn, is Ronald Reagan. It was from his final speech as President.

I didn’t know that, but it was only one revelation among many in a paper delivered at a conference I attended on American Political History–a paper by Marcus Witcher that traced the “conservatism” of Donald Trump back to that of Pat Buchanan, and drew a strong distinction between what he dubbed Buchanan’s “paleoconservatism” and the more optimistic and libertarian approach of Reagan.

Trump, it appears, did not come out of nowhere, much as we might wish to believe that. There has long been a “Trumpian” faction in the GOP.

As I read the paper, which the author was kind enough to share, I was struck by the numerous parallels between Buchanan and Trump:  the culture war rhetoric; the need to “save” America from “barbarians”–feminists, homosexuals, immigrants and foreigners; opposition to free trade and NAFTA; opposition to immigration, both legal and illegal.

And of course, the appeal to bigotry.

Some of us remember the very different speeches made by Buchanan and Reagan at the 1992 GOP convention. Buchanan’s speech (which Molly Ivins memorably quipped “sounded better in the original German”) was all about culture war and protecting the “Judeo-Christian heritage” of America; Reagan’s was about “working together for a brighter tomorrow.” Reagan concluded his speech by saying that, whatever history ultimately concluded about him and his Presidency, “I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears, to your confidence rather than your doubts.”

Not a Trumpian sentiment.

We can agree or disagree with Reagan’s policies, but there is no disputing the vast difference between his version of conservatism and the much darker version peddled by Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan eventually left the GOP for the Reform Party, and he defeated Donald Trump for that party’s nomination in 2000. (If I ever knew that, I’d forgotten it.)  Trump left the Reform party after that defeat, but as the paper pointed out, the 2016 messaging that won Trump  the GOP nomination is an eerie, virtually identical replica of Buchanan’s Reform Party message in 2000. Even the slogan “America First” was Buchanan’s. Politico later concluded that Buchanan’s legacy “was being Trump before Trump was Trump.”

For good or ill, the GOP is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan. (Nor is it the party of Barry Goldwater, or Nelson Rockerfeller, or Dwight Eisenhower, or ….) Reagan’s children have been vocal about the differences between the Gipper and Trump; they insist their father would be horrified by Trump and by what the current GOP has become.

Unfortunately, with its full-throated endorsement of Trump and Trumpism, the GOP is now   the party of Pat Buchanan–bitter, hateful and backward.